something that happens to you

[Alice] Neel liked quoting, with amusement, a strange remark made to her by Malcolm Cowley: “The trouble with you Alice, is you’re not romantic.” In truth, she was capital R Romantic in a very late, modern way: starched by experience. Art was not a refuge for her—she had no refuges, only respites. It was her life lived by other means, in which she enjoyed some moment-to-moment control. Rather than reflect on the preemptory realities of other people, she took them head-on, turning their force around and sending it back out. At times, every brushstroke can feel like a victory, against tall odds, of high humor fringed with deadly seriousness. Lots of celebrated twentieth-century art has seemed dated and tame lately. Not Neel’s, which, beyond being something to look at, is something that happens to you.

—Peter Schjeldahl, “Alice Neel,” Hold, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1998-2018 (Abrams Press, 2019)

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